By Kerry Doole FYI Music News
When Canadian broadcasting veteran Chuck McCoy takes to the stage to be inducted into the Ontario Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame at their annual convention on Nov. 10, it won’t be the first such walk he has taken. In 2008, he was inducted into the Canadian Music and Broadcasting Industry Hall of Fame, receiving the Allan Waters Broadcast Lifetime Achievement Award.
He doesn’t take such honours for granted, telling FYI yesterday that “they are all very special. The longer you’re in the business, the more special they become I think. I am very honoured and humbled by the selection of the OAB. I spent a good half of my career in Ontario, so it does mean something to me. My on-air career was primarily in Ontario.”
Calling in from his vacation home in Phoenix, Arizona, the affable McCoy took us for a stroll down memory lane. Given that he is still very active in the broadcasting business some 52 years on, that’s a lot of ground to cover.
McCoy’s career is a success story with few equals in the Canadian radio business. From his beginnings as an on-air personality in Winnipeg in 1965, McCoy went on to excel in the roles of program director, broadcast consultant, and two lengthy stints as a senior executive at Moffat Communications and then Rogers Broadcasting.
In December 2012, McCoy stepped down from his position as a VP/GM with Rogers to become an independent media/broadcast consultant, as President of Chuck McCoy International Media services.
Born in Kingston, Ontario (“my father was stationed there during World War 11”), he was raised in Winnipeg. The radio bug bit him hard at a very early age there. “I‘ve tried to think back to the first time I thought ‘I want to be on that machine,’” he says. “I honestly think I was about five. I listened to the radio a lot and went to many live radio broadcasts.
“Here’s a story I’ve told a lot. When I was in third grade, there was a supermarket opening at the end of my street. I grabbed my lunch at home and ran up there. They were broadcatsing live from a glass trailer. I stood there and watched, not concerned about getting back to school. They asked if I wanted to come in and look around the studio, which I did. I said ‘this is what I’m going to do when I’m older than eight. I’m going to be on the radio.’
“They said ‘would you like to read a commercial?’ I did it for Smith’s Premium Franks, and then ran off to school thinking I’d got away with something. But back then there were only about four radio stations in Winnipeg, and the chance of my mother or one of her friends not hearing me on the air was slim. I got into a bit of trouble for that.”
Shortly after, when his parents asked the age-old ‘what do you want to be?’ question, McCoy had the answer. “I said ‘I want to be a DJ when I grow up,’ and they replied ‘ ‘I don’t think you can have both.’ I decided to be a DJ and not grow up for the rest of my life!”
The young McCoy took early steps to ensure this could happen. “For all my very young years I made a concerted effort to learn. At 11 and 12 I’d go down to CKY and watch live broadcasts. I started going to university but the desire to be on the radio was so strong. I got an aircheck tape together and sent it out to radio stations all over the place, but nobody answered.”
He eventually scored a job operating at CKY FM, until a ‘happy accident ‘ over at CKY AM gave him a big break. “CKY in those days was a huge AM station, like a big US station. They had a fire in their transmitter that meant someone had to come in at night while they were repairing it, and maybe be on the air for an hour. I went in and asked for a chance to do that. I did rather expand on my abilities to the station PD- ‘oh sure I can do that, and that. Put me in there.’
“I was good enough to survive and I did that all summer long. In the fall when it was fixed they offered me the all night job, so I ended up on that shift.”
McCoy then had on-air stints at CJME in Regina, CJRN in Niagara, and CHLO AM in St. Thomas, ON. “J Robert Wood was the program director at CHLO and Paul Ski was afternoon drive. It was a fabulous station, and it was beating all the stations in London. Wood had worked with me when I was 19 at CKY in Winnipeg and I admired him greatly.”
McCoy learned well in 18 months at CHLO (1966-67), and then the bright lights of Toronto lured him. “I had a chance to go to CKFH. At that time it was really making a successful run at CHUM, so I thought I’ll change my goal of working at CHUM and I’ll go there. I was there about a year, then the very smart broadcasters at CHUM realized they needed to change. They brought in some good consulting and brought in J Robert Wood. I thought ‘I’m in the wrong place now.’ I think I called a few times then they called me and I went over. Jack Armstrong was on the air then, and I think he was involved in me getting there.”
That switch came in 1968, and began what McCoy terms “a most remarkable career there.Nine years on the air at the top station in Canada, with the top management of people like J Robert Wood, Fred Sherratt and Allan Waters.”
McCoy would then change roles within radio. “At some point I decided that as good as I always thought I was on the air, maybe I wasn’t going to be morning show calibre talent. That is the big shift , the one with the big future. Being honest with myself I didn’t think that was in the cards. At that time too most of the on-air people were Americans. Roger Ashby and I were Canadians. Roger did the all night show and I did 9 to midnight.”
Programming then lured McCoy. “I liked the scientific side of radio – how do you program stations to do better than the other stations? So I got involved in the music department and with programming, and my on-air role lessened.”
Opportunity knocked when CHUM bought a Vancouver station, CFUN (previously CKVN). “The company showed great faith in me by hiring me as their first program director there,” recalls McCoy. “I went there and in the space of two years we went from the bottom of the heap to No. 1 in the market. We had some great talent and some great assistance from CHUM, who gave us whatever we needed to compete in the market. That was a great time and it taught me a lot more about competitive radio and how you become a winner not a loser.”
McCoy left CFUN in late 1977, running his own consulting business for a few year,s and then Moffat Broadcasting came calling, offering him a position as National PD for their stations. “They were all in Western Canada – Moose Jaw, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver. I took the job and again had a terrific career for seven years [1979-86]. They were a great company to work for.”
During this period, McCoy became more involved in some of the Canadian industry associations. He was a member of the Board of BBM and the BBM Radio Executive Committee and was a founding director for FACTOR in 1981. He would later serve as Chairman of the Radio Starmaker Board from 2005-2010.
In 1986, McCoy returned to independent radio consulting, partnering with Pat Bohn. In 1989 he made another move, to Rogers Broadcasting, where he would occupy a few different positions for the next 24 years.
“Rogers was the biggest client for our consulting firm, with their stations CHFI and CFTR,” he recalls. “Rogers then bought a bunch of stations from Selkirk and Moffat, including two in Vancouver. I was living there at the time and had a growing family, so I thought this was a good time to get off the road and settle down in one market.”
McCoy took over as the VP/GM of Rogers’ Vancouver radio cluster, occupying that position from 1989 to 1999, and helping take CKKS-FM to top spot in the market for a number of years.
In 1999, Rogers promoted him to VP of programming for all their Toronto stations, including CHFI, CFTR, 680 News, THE FAN and CISS-FM. McCoy was involved in switching the latter’s format from country to Top 40 as KiSS 92.5.
“CHFI and 680 news were the two stations with the biggest audience and the most revenue in all of Canada,” notes McCoy. “It was a great opportunity and I got to work with great radio people like Tony Viner, Gary Miles, Sandy Sanderson, and Julie Adam, who is still there. I guess that was the highlight of my career.”
In 2010, McCoy was elevated to vice president and regional manager for all of Toronto, plus stations in Kitchener and London. He stayed in that position until late 2012, when he stepped away from Rogers and returned to media and broadcast consulting.
A key to McCoy’s success as a programmer and general manager was his ability to listen to others. He cites an interview he heard with hit songwriter Diane Warren as crucial in this. “She said radio station owners should make all their PDs women or, if not, that all the male PDs should spend a lot of time listening to the women in their lives.”
That advice paid off in 1998, he recalls. “I was with Rogers and working on a format change in Winnipeg with another company, Craig Broadcasting. The idea was to change a station to a CHR station. I knew CHR fairly well and had a good idea of how the music would be. My daughters were 17 and 15 at the time, They said ‘dad, you don’t understand. There’s a new rhythmic movement that is sweeping music now.’ They showed me a Seattle station they listened to for this. Back then, it was just beginning, with people like Will Smith and Britney Spears. I started listening to it and realized this is something. So I went to the female PD in Winnipeg and said I think we should change the station to a more rhythmic format. The look in her eyes and her exclamation of ‘right on Chuck’ was all I needed. It became the top station in the market and still is.
“Then when I went to Toronto and we bought the country station, to turn it into CHR, I said ‘look at Time magazine. Lauryn Hill is on the cover. This music is relevant and we should lean in that direction.’ Julie Adam took note and so we put KiSS on as a rhythmic CHR station.”
From his adult son, McCoy was alerted to the podcasting phenomemon back in 2006, and he has followed that closely. In fact, he reported eloquently on a recent podcasting conference for FYI.
He also always listened closely to those working under him in radio. “You have to meet with the people working for you and go home that night thinking ‘I learned something today.’ Otherwise I think you become someone who lives in the past. I have seen that in some of my colleagues. They’ll go ‘well, radio is not what it used to be.’ I say ‘thank god.’”
McCoy is expected about the changes and developments in radio and streamed audio. “Things are changing dramatically. I never would have thought that streamed audio would be such a new and exciting medium, but now streamed audio has taken over from streamed video, excluding Netflix. They are calling it the second golden age of audio.
“I am and have been in radio for 52 years but I’m really in the audio business. People ask about satellite radio, internet radio and podcasting. I say it is all audio, it is all part of the mix. Those up to speed in audio today are those who take advantage of what is out there now.”
When we ask the inevitable question about whether McCoy ever missed being on-air, he replies candidly. “I don’t regret for one minute the decision I made to move into programming and management, but I never forget the days of being on the air. Don’t let anybody fool you. If they’ve been on the air at a good station in a big market they’ll have to be honest and say that despite all the accolades and fame the real kick in radio is being on the air.”
Through his radio career, Chuck McCoy has worked at stations with a wide range of music formats, so we asked what he listens to at home. A very diverse list, he notes. “My Spotify playlist has Georgia Satellites, Louis Prima, Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, but also FloRida. I just watched a Sinatra special and I’m thrilled I saw him in his heyday. Elvis too. I recently saw Tony Bennett and Keith Urban.”
He offers a surprising confession though. “From the age of five I only ever wanted to play music on the radio, but until I was nearly 40 and had a child who wanted to listen to music I never bought a record. I never had a record player. I’m a music fan and I go to concerts, but I was about being on the radio.”
Growing up in Winnipeg in the early to mid ‘60s meant McCoy was exposed to that city’s thriving scene. “There were so many great bands,” he recalls. “I went to school with Neil Young. He’d come down to our community club and ask if he could play for us, for free.”
“My very first day on the radio at CKY I knew I should give some music news. I started on air the week that Burton Cummings left his group The Deverons to join The Guess Who, so I could pass on that news. I later thanked him for that. When I was inducted into the Canadian Music and Broadcasting Industry Hall of Fame in 2008, Randy Bachman came and sang there.”
Another well-deserved induction now awaits a genuine Hall of Famer.